Editorial Feature

Graphene in 2017: The Story So Far January - April

In October 2004, University of Manchester’s Andre Geim, along with his colleague Kostya Novoselov, published their discovery that when a block of graphite is broken down to just 10 or 100 layers thick, a material known as graphene emerges1.

With substantial material properties involving its superior strength as well as both heat and electricity conductibility, while remaining such a thin material, graphene has become one of the most studied materials to date.

While graphene is most often employed in disciplines such as bioengineering, composite materials, energy technology and nanotechnology, its ability to be interjected with other elements allows for its applications to be limitless.

One of the most pressing challenges that the graphene industry faces is a lack of pure production of the material. A recent research report conducted by the Centre for Advanced 2 D Materials (CA2DM) at the National University of Singapore has found that most graphene production companies generate a material that is comprised of a graphene content of only 2-10%2.

Canadian based company Elcora Advanced Materials Corporation has become one of the leading graphene producers in the world, while also maintaining products comprised of 55% graphene content. As its unique designed processing technology not only works towards achieving the purest form of graphene possible, Elcora ensures the cost effective production of graphene from natural graphite in a green and efficient manner.

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By minimizing the need for using harsh chemicals, while also eliminating the environmentally damaging byproducts or waste that often follow graphene production, Elcora is one of the most environmentally safe graphene plants available today3.

After acquiring control of the Ragedera graphite mine located in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Elcora Advanced Material has been able to successfully produce an estimated 18,000 tonnes of high quality graphite per year.

With production bases located in both South Wales and Seoul, Korea, Haydale Graphene Industries is one of the numerous companies working towards enhancing the carbon fiber composites for specific aerospace and automotive needs. In doing so, research conducted by both Haydale and scientists from the School of Engineering at Cardiff University have investigated how the addition of graphene nanoplaatelets (GP) and carbon nanotubes (CNT) into the composites can allow for reinforcing benefits of the technology.

These benefits include an increased resistance and tolerance to damage of the vehicle, while also showing a 13% increase in the compression strength following impact performance studies. By positively influencing composites such as aircraft wings and automobile parts, Haydale has improved these important properties that are required for maintaining such high performance structures4.

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In addition to achieving such impressive material improvements, the techniques employed during this process were performed in a much more cost effective, green and efficient manner. The process employed in the development of this composite involved treating the surface of the nanomaterials with Haydale’s low temperature and low energy HDPlas ® plasma process4.

This plasma functionalization process not only produces high integrity materials, but also avoids the typical waste production associated with functionalization processes while simultaneously promoting homogenous dispersion and chemical bonding. Haydale researchers are hopeful that this newly developed material can allow for lighter and stronger wings to be implemented into aircraft deisgns that can simultaneously reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions released by these aircrafts.

Rahul Nair from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom has recently developed a method involving the use of graphene oxide in order to effectively desalinate water. Considered to be the oxidized form of graphene, graphene oxide membranes have recently emerged as an excellent membrane material that is capable of separating multiple different types of molecules and ions present in an aqueous solution5.

The sieving potential of graphene oxide membranes has been successful in removing small nanoparticles, organic molecules and large salts from solution; however, their ability to filter out common salts has not been documented until now. Previous attempts at employing graphene oxide membranes in the filtration of smaller salts in water have caused the membranes to expand and prevent the flow of water from entering the pores of the membrane.

By placing walls composed of a substance known as epoxy resin that is typically used in glues and coatings on either side of the graphene oxide membrane, the team of researchers led by Dr. Nair was able to successfully prevent the swelling of the membranes upon its immersion in water6.

With a uniform pore size within the membrane of only 0.9 nm in width, this highly selective graphene oxide membrane has several advantages as compared to its bulk counterpart, graphene7. As a much more inexpensive option coupled with a long operational lifetime, graphene oxide membranes have a spectacular separation potential that could have a significant impact in a wide variety of energy reduction and environmental conservation industries around the world.

Outside of its potential for water purification purposes, researchers believe that this technology could also provide a useful addition in the dehydration and purification of biofuels. In most biofuel processes, water is formed as a byproduct, and its presence in the biofuel can affect the final product in a detrimental way. Therefore, the hope is that the application of graphene oxide membranes in this industrial process could have an advantageous use.

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Similarly, graphene oxide membranes have a well-documented gas separation ability that prevents any vapor molecules from passing through the membrane. In one of the first studies illustrating this property, researchers measured the loss of weight within a containing initially filled with alcohol before and after it was sealed with a graphene oxide membrane8.

Following the membrane sealing, researchers found that no noticeable variation in the weight of or the pressure within the container was detected. As a result of this remarkable gas separation property, researchers are hopeful the use of graphene oxide membranes can be applied to the controlling of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the purification of hydrogen-related clean energy gases, in future real world applications.

The University of Cambridge has recently developed a highly conductive ink known as ‘Graphene – IPA Ink.” Composed of powdered graphite dissolved in alcohol, this ink has the potential to be used in inkjet printers that print electrical circuits onto paper.

By forcing the ink through a micrometer-scale capillary at an extremely high pressure, the resulting product is a smooth and conductive material9. Researchers are hopeful that devices such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) antennas, passports, electronic tags, and similar everyday items can be printed at a much cheaper rate with the application of electronic circuits printed using this graphene ink.

While graphene may appear to be a single product, it has developed into several different types of applications in its short 13-year live span since its first entrance into the scientific world. Its wide range of uses allow for this material to have a promising future, in which its varying and impressive properties of transparency, strength and conductivity can improve almost every industry of the world.

The world of two-dimensional materials, like graphene, have allowed for researchers to manipulate different geometries and combinations of these compounds to create wonderful new products of the future. As research and development projects continue to work on graphene and its numerous applied products, new two-dimensional materials continue to be discovered each day in continuance of this revolutionary pathway that has set by graphene.

References

  1. "This Month in Physics History." American Physical Society. 22 Oct. 2014. Web. https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200910/physicshistory.cfm.
  2. "Graphene R&D." Elcora Advanced Materials. Web. https://www.elcoracorp.com/graphene-rd/.
  3. Ecclestone, Christopher. "Analyst on How Elcora Has Positioned Themselves as a Leader in the Graphite Space." InvestorIntel. 06 Apr. 2017. Web. https://investorintel.com/sectors/technology-metals/technology-metals-intel/elcora-pulling-ahead-leadership-graphite-space/.
  4. "Carbon Fibre Composites." Haydale. 11 Nov. 2014. Web. http://www.haydale.com/news/graphene-toughened-composites-a-milestone-for-next-generation-aerospace-structures/.
  5. An, Di, Ling Yang, Ting-Jie Wang, and Boyang Liu. "Separation Performance of Graphene Oxide Membrane in Aqueous Solution." Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research 55.17 (2016): 4803-810. Web.
  6. Rincon, Paul. "Graphene-based Sieve Turns Seawater into Drinking Water." BBC News. BBC, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39482342.
  7. Wilkinson, Jake. "Developing Graphene Oxide Membranes for the Purification of Water and Green Fuels." AZoNano.com. 22 Sept. 2016. Web. http://www.azonano.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=4275.
  8. Joshi, R.k., S. Alwarappan, M. Yoshimura, V. Sahajwalla, and Y. Nishina. "Graphene Oxide: The New Membrane Material." Applied Materials Today 1.1 (2015): 1-12. Web.
  9. "Conductive Graphene Ink Wins Science Photography Competition's Top Prize." Phys.org. Web. https://phys.org/news/2017-04-graphene-ink-science-photography-competition.html.
  10. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/OliveTree

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